Architectural extravagance within view of a UNESCO World Heritage Site – this generally means trouble, as Dresden has recently learned to its dismay. However, there have been no complaints (so far) about the new building of the Jordanki cultural and congress centre in the Polish city of Toruń. The birth place of Nicolaus Copernicus has one of Poland’s best-preserved old towns and is an important site for the Gothic brickwork style. Only to the north and west is the old town surrounded by a busy ring road; to the south, the Vistula flows past.
Fernando Menis, winner of a 2008 architecture competition, has placed his new structure at the northwest corner of the old town. The Spanish architect espouses a style that could be described as geological: heavy concrete volumes, roughly planked or else worked over with a bush hammer, surround cave-like interiors in which the daylight penetrates narrow slits to create dramatic effects of light and shade.
To find the right shape, Menis works primarily in plasticene. This is how he designed the Magna cultural centre located in the south of Tenerife eleven years ago. He has now employed a similar language of form for the 51-million-euro cultural centre in Toruń.
Multifunctionality in a Concrete Shell
At first, the 22,000-m² building was planned exclusively as a concert hall, but more and more functions were added: theatre performances, opera, cinema – the hall was to be used for all these, plus banquets… and of course, all with the same budget as before. Menis was even expected to integrate an open-air stage facing the neighbouring park.
He managed all this with a structure that he compares to a sponge. The “porous” floor plans are zoned with cores, but in between, the spaces can be opened, closed or joined as needed. The fixtures, particularly the spectator terraces, are reversible. What’s more, the large concert stage can be opened onto the park. According to Menis, the stage forms a type of gate that links two different exterior spaces despite the centre’s fortified appearance.
The architect has another image in mind, this time to describe the construction of the walls and ceiling: żurek, a sour rye soup popular in Poland, which is often served in a round loaf of bread. In the case of the Jordanki cultural centre, the bread stands for the outer concrete shell. The soup is the broken bricks that have been poured into the concrete and are perceptible in the many hollowed-out areas of the edifice. This mixture of concrete and bricks was added later, while the flat surfaces show the planking. Menis believes the working of the concrete is more than a mere matter of aesthetics: it is meant to improve the acoustics in the hall by reducing reverberation time.